Top airlines preview new business class seats

Life at the pointy end of the plane is getting even better as a new wave of business class replaces old-gen seats on popular routes within Australia and overseas.

If you've got ten minutes to spare, here is Executive Style's executive briefing on the seats you'll soon be flying.

Virgin Australia

The routes: Sydney & Brisbane to Los Angeles, also Sydney-Abu Dhabi

The old seats: Virgin's long-range Boeing 777s have been making do with a wide comfy lie-flat seat but in a 2-3-2 arrangement which made for plenty of passenger-hopping.

The new seats: from this month the Boeings will begin flying with the same superb business class seat as Virgin Australia's domestic east-west Airbus A330s.

They'll debut on the competitive Sydney-LAX route where passengers will immediately notice the differences beyond a revised 1-2-1 layout so that every travellers has direct access to the aisle plus a higher degree of privacy.

The video screens will be upsized from 12 inches (30.7cm) to a massive 18 inches (45.7cm) and there's ample space for working during the flight plus keeping personal belongings close at hand.

The extensive make-over for each Boeing 777 will also include a larger inflight bar, with face-to-face service for up to four seated guests and additional lounge seating behind the bar.


The routes: across Australia, plus flights to Asia


The old seats: Qantas and ex-Jetstar Airbus A330s fitted with a variety of old-gen seats, including reclining but not fully-flat Skybeds to Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and beyond.

The new seats: Qantas is in the home stretch of upgrading its domestic and international Airbus A330 fleet with the world-class Business Suite, with the refit slated to be complete by the end of the year.

If you've already flown these on east-west or Asian routes – or even lucked onto one doing a quick Sydney-Melbourne run – you'll know what to expect.

The wide seats can recline on takeoff and landing and go fully-flat at other times. We love the generous bench space and nooks for carry-on gear and an overall sense that you're flying first class.

Malaysia Airlines

The routes: Australia to Kuala Lumpur

The old seats: angled flat-seats ranked 2-2-2 made the trip to and from KL feel less than 'premium'.

The new seats: a similar design to the Qantas Business Suite means each seat reclines into fully flat bed up to 20 inches (52cm) wide.

We're also fans of the larger storage cupboards with room for your amenity kit, headphones and other bits and pieces.

The first retrofitted A330 is already darting between Sydney and Malaysia, with all Aussie flights to be upgraded by September.

A few seats in each cabin boast a 'throne' design with extra-wide armrest benches located on both sides of the seat itself. Settle in and do your best imitation of Captain Picard: "set course for Kuala Lumpur – engage!".

Etihad Airways

The route: Melbourne to Abu Dhabi

The old seat: Etihad's Boeing 777-300ER has one of the better 'older' business class seats in this seat, but even so…

The new seat: from June 1, daily Melbourne-Abu Dhabi flights EY460/461 will be bumped up to Etihad's swish Airbus A380 superjumbo.

Travellers will love the improved 'Business Studio' pods which in every respect are even more comfortable, more private and better appointed.

But you'll want to shoot for an upgrade to the spacious first class 'Apartment' suites with almost four square metres of space.

Also coming to Melbourne later this year is an all-new Etihad Premium lounge for the airline's top travellers.

Qatar Airways

The route: Sydney to Doha, Adelaide to Doha

The old seats: fully-flat 2-2-2 benches which are well up to the task of the 14 hour flight.

The new seats: Qatar's flagship business class designs go 1-2-1 with a boost in privacy, comfort and working space.

Sydney flyers will see them from mid-year when the recently-launched Boeing 777-300ER is swapped out for the Airbus A380, which also comes with what we rate as the best inflight bar/lounge.

But Adelaide will not only get the jump on Sydney, it'll enjoy Australia-wide bragging rights the Qatar begins flying its latest Airbus A350 out of the City of Churches from the start of May.

The A350 has the same business class seat as the A380 but offers a smoother, quieter ride and a greater sense of space inside the cabin itself.

Which airline has best business class offering? And what do you look for when flying at the pointy end? Let us know in the comment section. 

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.